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Serpents Loan Watch: 29 March

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Geoffrey Kondogbia’s excellent season in Spain continues.

Valencia CF

Welcome to a very belated second edition of the Serpents Loan Watch - a feature that we introduced at the start of the month (here and here, if you missed it) and are aiming to run from now on here at SoM on a fortnightly basis (and not on a weekly basis, as I erroneously said last time - apologies).

Maybe on a Wednesday, maybe on a Thursday.

Having used the first instalment to bring people up to speed with how Inter’s loanees have fared so far this season, this week’s piece will recap what everybody has been getting up to since then - over the last four weeks - after an uncharacteristic bout of disorganisation prevented me from putting together another piece so far this month. (Again, apologies for that.)

So, without further ado...

ABROAD

Geoffrey Kondogbia (Valencia)

Geoffrey Kondogbia is going from strength to strength at Valencia.
Valencia CF

While France were taking on Colombia and Russia in two pre-World Cup friendlies this week Geoffrey Kondogbia was watching on from the comfort of his sofa, after Didier Deschamps decided to leave the midfielder out of his 24-man squad for the March international break.

Quite why he continues to be overlooked however is a bit of a mystery, because as Russia 2018 moves closer and closer it seems Kondo is only getting better and better - to the point where his coach at Valencia, Marcelino, now believes that he is better than Paul Pogba (full quotes here, if you want proof...)

After a brief spell on the sidelines with a foot injury last month one might have expected the momentum he had built up to take a bit of a hit, but if anything he’s gone up another gear since returning to the pitch, putting in three Man of the Match performances in the three games he has played since we last checked in with him.

In the first of those games he provided an assist for Simone Zaza in Valencia’s 2-0 win over Betis - a very nice one, combining power and precision, which you can check out here - and put in a performance that earned recognition from listeners of The Spanish Football Podcast, who voted it as the best individual display in La Liga that weekend (excluding Messi and Ronaldo).

In the second - another 2-0 win for Los Che, this time against Vincenzo Montella’s Sevilla - he went one better and provided two assists, both of which just as sublime (if not more so) than the one he’d laid on the week before, leading one Spanish paper to describe him as ‘brutal, unstoppable, immense, a total footballer’.

And in the third, a 3-1 victory over Alaves, Kondogbia once again stole the headlines (albeit without providing any assists on this occasion), with AS describing him as a ‘bull’ - ‘he commanded the game with an iron fist’, they wrote, ‘which he used to help clear everything that was in his path. And he’d hardly trained in the build up to this game’. High praise indeed!

One thing is for sure: if Valencia can afford to sign him permanently this summer (their option is fixed at €25m), then they will. Because he’s been simply exceptional for them.

Joao Mario (West Ham)

From the sublime to... well, the not-so-sublime.

West Ham United v Burnley - Premier League Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

If Kondogbia has been using his loan spell to justify the hysteria that accompanied his arrival at Inter in 2015 (to some extent, anyway), Joao Mario is using his time abroad to justify the hysteria that accompanied his departure from Inter in January.

After being an unused substitute in what Hammers boss David Moyes described as ‘the worst performance since I’ve been at the club’, a 4-1 loss away to Swansea on 3 March, the Portuguese midfielder played 71 minutes in their shambolic 3-0 defeat at home to Burnley the following Saturday - and he played them very badly indeed, wasting a glorious chance to open the scoring in the first half before disappearing along with the rest of his teammates.

The match itself was overshadowed by the extraordinary series of pitch invasions and fan protests that took place at the London Stadium during the second half (see here if you missed it), but a few disgruntled supporters still took the time to voice their discontent with Mario’s display on social media.

It’s just as well that he believes Inter are ‘part of my past’ now, as we reported last week, because frankly I have no interest in seeing him wear our shirt again anytime soon.

(West Ham didn’t play on the weekend of 17-18 March as their league game with Manchester United was postponed, due to United’s involvement in the FA Cup quarter-finals. So they went to Miami for a training camp, instead. As you do.)

Yuto Nagatomo (Galatasaray)

Game-time ahead of the World Cup is the reason Yuto Nagatomo joined Galatasaray in January and game-time ahead of the World Cup is exactly what the Japanese left-back is getting in Turkey.

Since we last checked in Yuto has played the full 90 minutes in each of Gala’s three league matches in March, which have seen them pick up 7 points to consolidate their slender lead at the top of the Super Lig table - but what’s more, he has provided two assists in that time. Two! Nagatomo!

The first (which you can watch here) came in Gala’s 7-0 rout against bottom-of-the-table Kardemir Karabükspor, in the form of a nicely-weighted cross for former Lyon and Swansea City striker Bafetimbi Gomis, while the second (another left-footed cross, here) enabled Sinan Gümüş to fire in a crucial late winner at home to fourth-placed Konyaspor (2-1).

Incredibly (or not) these are Nagatomo’s first assists of any kind in almost four years, since he provided two in Inter’s Europa League play-off win over Stjarnan back in August 2014. Evidently they only come in pairs - which explains why he couldn’t repeat the trick in the big Istanbul derby away to Fenerbahce on 17 March, a match that ended 0-0.

This latest pair are part of the reason that Galatasaray would like to sign the Japanese international permanently at the end of the season, as confirmed by club President Mustafa Cengiz, but according to Turkish newspaper Fanatik they are only offering Inter €2.5m at the moment, which is unlikely to be enough. Time will tell if they intend to increase that offer at all.

Gabriel Barbosa (Santos)

After a lightning start to his second spell at Santos in which it seemed he could do no wrong, March hasn’t been quite as kind to Gabriel Barbosa as February was.

Since we last spoke the Brazilian giants have played eight more matches between the bizarre-and-pointless state championships and the far-less-bizarre-and-pointless Copa Libertadores, and across those eight matches our favourite mascot has collected more sending offs (1) than he has goals (0).

In the state championships, Gabriel was dropped to the bench for each of Santos’ final three group matches (coming on for 5 minutes in the last one) before playing the full 180 minutes of the two-legged quarter-final tie against Botafogo (which Jair Ventura’s side eventually won on penalties), and then the entirety of their semifinal first leg defeat to Palmeiras.

Throughout those six games the closest he came to scoring was in the first leg against Botafogo, when he squandered two gilt-edged chances to give Santos the lead (see here - first one at 1:22, second one at 2:26). Oops.

In the Libertadores, meanwhile, he produced an anonymous performance in the 2-0 defeat to Peruvian outfit Real Garcilaso before being sent off inside 44 minutes against Nacional (a game Santos went on to win 3-1 regardless). The second booking came for a late challenge in midfield, as you can see in the adjacent video.

The good news is that Santos’s President said last week that there’s a clause in his loan deal which would enable him to stay at the club for another year after the initial contract expires (in December 2018). We can but hope.

Jonathan Biabiany (Sparta Prague)

In our first article four weeks ago we said that we hadn’t heard the last of the dispute between Jonathan Biabiany and Sparta Prague, which had seen the Czech club freeze the winger out of the first-team squad in an attempt to force him to leave, and sure enough there has been an important development during the last few days.

After three months of pretending he didn’t exist and (according to France Football) refusing to help him treat a knee injury(!), Sparta have finally backed down under pressure from World Players’ Union FIFPro and reintegrated Biabiany into the team. Unwillingly, I’m sure.

Sporting director Zdenek Szasny has stipulated that the player will be returning to Inter at the end of the season, but for now Biabiany has got what he wanted (and had a legal right to).

In other Sparta Prague-related news, a couple of weeks ago they sacked head coach and former Inter boss Andrea Stramaccioni, with the team languishing down in 6th (outside the European qualification spots) in the First League table.

I wish I could say that came as a surprise.

Zinho Vanheusden (Standard Liege)

He’s still recovering from his ACL injury and therefore isn’t available for selection yet, but Zinho did make a big breakthrough this week as he has finally been given the all-clear to start training with the rest of his new Standard Liege team-mates.

While this is undoubtedly positive news I hope he’s given as much time as he needs to reach full fitness again without being encouraged to speed anything up, because that’s when you risk having a relapse. Andrea Conti and Faouzi Ghoulam now know a thing or two about that.

Samuele Longo (Tenerife)

Since replacing Jose Luis Marti with former Spain international Joseba Etxeberria Tenerife’s season has been given a new lease of life, with Sunday’s 2-0 win over Lorca becoming their fifth success in seven games since the club’s change of coach.

Despite this the Segunda Division playoffs remain five points away but their late-season momentum gives them reason to keep the faith, and with a forward as prolific as Samuele Longo in their ranks they have the firepower to make a late surge up the table.

Longo has only scored once in the four games he’s played since our first Loan Watch, bagging the opening goal in Tenerife’s 3-1 win over Real Oviedo three weeks ago - but that brings his tally to 12 for the season, which gives him a strike rate of 1 goal every 143 minutes.

And, more importantly, what a goal it was that he scored against Oviedo... (OK I know, the defenders gave him acres of space, but let’s be kind.)

Rey Manaj (Granada)

Having secured four wins out of four in February Granada’s promotion push has come off the rails somewhat in March, with three straight defeats leading to the dismissal of Jose Luis Oltra and pushing them down to 5th in the Segunda Division.

25 Rm ⚫️

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Despite the poor form and the coaching change however Manaj continues to be on the fringes of the team. He was left out against Lugo and Gimnastic before being given 15 minutes against Real Oviedo, in which he picked up a fifth booking of the season and therefore a one-game suspension (served during 1-0 win over Numancia last Sunday.

Axel Bakayoko (Sochaux)

After a brief revival of sorts between January and February (four wins in six games at one stage) Sochaux’s hopes of obtaining promotion to Ligue 2 have all but faded now, with three defeats in their last four dropping them down to 10th in the table.

Bakayoko continues to receive a decent amount of game-time, however, having made two substitute appearances in the losses against Paris FC (20 mins) and Auxerre (45 mins) before starting in the 0-0 draw with Tours on 16 March.

After being tried out at full-back the Frenchman has since been played as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 and a winger in a 4-2-3-1. No goals or assists to show for his cameos though.

Gaston Camara (Gil Vicente)

Since our last visit to Portugal’s second tier it seems Gil Vicente have got their act together somewhat, recording two wins in their last four games to bring themselves back within touching distance of safety.

And happily, Camara made a direct contribution to both those wins. Against Leixoes (2-1) he provided the assist for their momentary equaliser (his fourth of the campaign, here) while against Benfica B (2-1) he finally grabbed his first goal of the season, after cutting inside and curling a deflected shot into the far corner.

Let’s hope he can keep it up.

SERIE A

Alessandro Bastoni (Atalanta)

Not called up for Bologna-Atalanta on 11 March; not called up for Juventus-Atalanta on 14 March; away on international duty for Verona-Atalanta on 18 March. The chances of him getting any more game-time with the first team this year - barring a run-out in the last couple of matches if Atalanta have nothing to play for - look pretty slim.

I love this game

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SERIE B

Ionut Radu (Avellino)

Still out injured, unfortunately. Although he is expected to return soon. And Avellino are going to need the Romanian at his best, because they’ve only won 1 of their last 9 and have thus been sucked right into the relegation scrap.

Niccolò Belloni (Carpi)

Also still out injured, so like Radu he hasn’t played since our last article. It’s now two months he’s been on the sidelines, so I hope everything’s OK. He wasn’t meant to be out for this long initially...

(Carpi have won 2, drawn 1 and lost 1 during March so far. No relegation concerns.)

Francesco Bardi (Frosinone)

Slightly different picture for Bardi. Unlike Radu and Belloni he has recovered from his injury, but he hasn’t yet made it back into the starting XI (he’s been an unused substitute for Frosinone’s last 4 games).

He hasn’t done anything wrong; it’s just that understudy Mauro Vigorito has been playing well in his absence and head coach Moreno Longo has decided to stick with him for the moment. Bardi is likely to regain his position in goal at some point in the next two months, though.

George Puscas (Novara)

Novara’s season may not be panning out as they had planned but in George Puscas they made one of Serie B’s two best signings during the January transfer window (the other one being Oliver Kragl’s move to Foggia).

Since we last spoke the Romanian has added another two goals to his tally since arriving in Piedmont, bringing his tally to seven in nine appearances (all from the start), and both helped Mimmo Di Carlo’s team towards important results in their battle to avoid the drop.

First he scored Novara’s equaliser as they came from behind to beat fellow strugglers Brescia 2-1 (a close-range finish after fudging his initial header, here), and then a week later he broke the deadlock against promotion-chasing Palermo with a poacher’s goal at the far post (see below), in a match that eventually finished 2-2.

Puscas also played 90 minutes against Frosinone on 3 March and 68 minutes against Salernitana last Sunday; two games that ended in 1-0 defeats.

Marco Carraro (Pescara)

Having held down a place in the starting XI between the end of October and the beginning of March, Carraro is now unfortunately back where he started the season - on the bench.

Following Pescara’s 2-0 defeat to Cittadella on 3 March the club finally lost patience and decided to sack head coach Zdenek Zeman - the man who’d personally requested Carraro during the summer - and with the Bohemian went the youngster’s place in the team.

New boss Massimo Epifani has replaced Carraro in the deep-lying play-maker role with Gaston Brugman and so the 20 year-old hasn’t started any of the Delfino’s last four matches.

After being an unused substitute in the defeats against Parma (1-4) and Carpi (0-1) he made two brief appearances against Avellino (2-2) and runaway league leaders Empoli (0-1), but without making any kind of impact. Let’s hope he’s given more space in the coming weeks.

Andrea Palazzi (Pescara)

Still recovering from the ACL injury he sustained in September. Although the fact that he’s currently stationed at Appiano Gentile meant he got to meet Adriano when he stopped by last week, so that was a little silver lining for him.

Raffaele Di Gennaro (Spezia)

Last time I waxed lyrical about the excellent season that Raffaele Di Gennaro has been having in goal for Spezia, outlining his extremely impressive numbers between the sticks this year and making reference to some of the praise he’s received for his performances from former goalkeepers.

Unfortunately, in doing so it appears I jinxed him. Because ever since that first Loan Watch piece went up Di Gennaro’s form has nosedived spectacularly, and on Saturday his crisis was crystallised when head coach Fabio Gallo dropped him to the bench for Spezia’s 1-1 draw against Ascoli.

His worst individual performance this month came against Cesena on 3 March, when the Liguri lost 2-1 thanks to two goals he bore no small amount of responsibility for (see the video), but he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory during the 3-0 defeat to Perugia either when allowing Raffaele Bianco’s (fairly weak) shot to creep in under him (eep).

The moral of the story is that you should never be nice to people. Because otherwise this happens.

Francesco Forte (Spezia)

While Di Gennaro’s impressive campaign has gone south fairly quickly during the month of March, his has thankfully continued.

Spezia haven’t won in 5 games and now sit 5 points adrift of the Serie B playoff spots, but without the two goals Forte scored against Ternana and Bari - two goals that helped them secure consecutive 1-1 draws - they could have been in even direr straights at the moment.

The goal against Bari (see below) was particularly nice - a sweet header that bounced in off the post - although there was a brutish beauty about the way he smashed the ball in against Ternana too (see here).

Forte has now started four games on the spin for Spezia and always manages to put himself about when called into action, although Alberto Gilardino’s imminent return from injury means that that streak will probably come to an end soon.

Rigoberto Rivas (Brescia)

Since we last spoke he’s made two more appearances - as a second-half substitute away to Perugia on 6 March (28 minutes) and as a first-half substitute away to Bari last Saturday (75 minutes; somebody picked up an injury early on).

Unfortunately Brescia lost both games and Rivas was unable to have an impact either of them. But you can’t really blame him, because the entire team played terribly on both occasions.

Andrea Bandini (Brescia)

Still no sign of him. Hasn’t been called up since 21 January and it’s unlikely he’ll be involved from now until the end of the season.